Criminal investigation opened into police pursuit

By JULIE MCCLURE, The Republic

Bartholomew County sheriff’s detectives have opened a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding a pursuit initiated by a Nashville Police reserve officer that ended in a motorcyclist’s fatal crash.

The investigation was requested by the Nashville Police Department, Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said Tuesday.

Bartholomew detectives are investigating the actions of then-Nashville reserve officer Leonard Burch, 25, who began pursuing a Hope teenager driving at high speeds on a motorcycle at about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 29 on U.S. 31 near Taylorsville, Myers said.

Nashville Police Chief Ben Seastrom said Tuesday that Burch had resigned, but he will not comment further until the investigation was complete.

Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Capt. Chris Roberts, commander of the detective bureau, said the investigation into the pursuit will involve two areas — whether the Nashville Police Department’s policy would allow Burch to enforce laws as a reserve officer when he was not on active duty and whether Burch had authority to have a Nashville police vehicle at the time and location of the pursuit.

Burch, who was off duty, was driving a marked Nashville police car southbound on U.S. 31 when he activated his lights and sirens to pursue Xavier M. Scrogham, 18, on a motorcycle, and called Bartholomew County dispatch for help by cellphone, investigators said.

Burch told dispatchers Scrogham had passed him traveling 120 mph in the southbound lane, according to an audio recording of the incident released by the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center.

The pursuit continued at speeds of more than 100 mph through Columbus on U.S. 31 (National Road) until Burch lost sight of the motorcyclist on 25th Street each of Columbus and stopped the pursuit. A Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputy found Scrogham, who had been thrown from his motorcycle, on Sunland Road east of Columbus at about 11:43 p.m.

Scrogham had missed a 90-degree turn and went off the road, striking a telephone pole guide wire which knocked him off the motorcycle. The impact knocked off Scrogham’s helmet and he died at the scene from head and neck trauma, Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher said.

Bartholomew County detectives have requested and are waiting for Burch’s dash-camera video from the pursuit, Roberts said. Seastrom said Tuesday he had yet to review video from the camera.

Roberts said the investigation will include determining whether Burch was in uniform or carrying a gun while in the marked car during the pursuit.

No Bartholomew County or Columbus police officers were involved in the actual pursuit, although a Bartholomew County deputy located Scrogham after the accident.

Burch, hired as a Nashville reserve officer in April, was placed on administrative leave by the Nashville police department after the incident. He was one of five reserve officers who serve as volunteers.

The Nashville department has a policy about what officers are to do in pursuits and when those pursuits are to be terminated for public safety reasons, but Seastrom declined to comment on the policy while the investigation continues.

A criminal investigation does not mean there has been wrongdoing. Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash will determine whether to file charges based on evidence provided by investigators.

The Brown County Democrat, a sister publication of The Republic (Columbus), contributed to this report.